Ham radio info

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    At our last meeting I did a demo of ham radio and there are always people who ask what is ham radio? That is just like CB radio right? How do I get involved in it? Do I still have to learn morse code? And quite a few other questions. I work to put this information together and hope it answers any questions about it. If you have other questions about ham radio that I did not answer please feel free to contact me through e-mail. KF4QOE@gmail.com.

    OK now onto the information.

    Here is a little bit of info about me. I was first licensed in 1997. I hold the highest level of license. Extra Class. This license was issued to me by the FCC and my callsign is KF4QOE. My callsign KF4QOE is just like a car VIN number. It is a unique identifier for only me. I worked my way up through the different levels of license classes. There used to be 5 license levels and you had to learn morse code (I did and it was hard). Now there are only 3 levels and no morse code requirement. If you are interested in getting your license it is very easy.

    To become a ham you must take and pass a multiple choice test. It is a very easy test to pass. Once you get your license it is good for 10 years and all you have to do is renew it by filling out a form right before it expires. I have included a link to where you can download free software to use to take practice test. For each level of license you are required to take and pass a test. There are test given in Montgomery and almost every large city in the USA by most ham radio clubs. If you are not in the Montgomery, Alabama area just visit the ARRL website and look for license test sites and local clubs.

    First let me start off by saying Ham Radio or Amateur radio is not the same as CB radio. CB radio is a free for all on the airwaves. (There is a lot of cursing and people talking about stuff that would make a sailor blush.) To use CB radio you do not need a license anymore and anyone can go out and buy a CB and use it. The frequencies used for CB radio used to belong to the ham bands but was taken from us by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) and used for the general public. The 40 channels that are called CB channels are also called the 11 meter band by many of the Hams.

    Ham radio or Amateur radio (the same thing) is governed by the FCC. We must follow all rules set forth to us by the FCC. Violation of these rules can result in large fines and or imprisonment. Now I do not mean to scare you just to inform you. There are also just a few basic rules you should know.

    Rules of ham radio:
    1. No business of any kind can be conducted over the air. Period.
    2. You are responsible for your station and it’s security (this means making sure no one gets on the radio and plays around on your equipment. Only licensed radio operators are suppose to be on the air. There are certain conditions where someone who is not licensed can talk on the radio if you are the control operator.)
    3. You are responsible for identifying yourself when you are on the air. This means you must ID yourself at least once every 10 minutes and at the end of your conversation and when you are getting off of the air.
    4. You cannot use any kind of profanity at all. Period.
    5. You must only transmit within your license privileges.
    6. You cannot broadcast music or TV audio.

    Also remember anyone can listen to your conversation. Anything you say on a ham radio can be heard by anyone else with a scanner or another ham radio.

    Some Ham radio operators work as volunteers with the National Weather Service (N.W.S.) as Storm Spotters. They offer free classes for this traning and it is a lot of fun too. The storm spotters relay information about storms and or damage caused by storms to the N.W.S. in real time. Hams also do public service events like providing communications for the Special Olympics, Triathlons, bike rides and many other events.

    There are people from all walks of life that are Hams. Doctors, lawyers, plumbers, police officers, teachers, homemakers and even Astronauts, plus everyone in between.

    Now on to the more technical information.

    There are a lot of different types of equipment and terminology that may sound confusing but I will try to make it easy to understand.

    First off we will talk about radios and the different types.

    1. There are handheld radios. These are smaller and easier to carry around with you. These are usually lower transmit power (most commonly 5 watts or less) and are good for short range communications usually through a repeater (I will explain what a repeater is below) or line of sight communications. These work off of either a rechargeable battery or “AA” or “AAA” batteries. You can also power most of these types of radios from a car cord that you plug-in like you do with a cell phone. There are single band and multiple band radios. Multiple band radios can receive and transmit on different bands at the same time. This is usually the cheapest way to get started in ham radio and is what most people first own. You can always connect an external antenna which will help you with distance you will be able to talk. A lot of these also pick-up FM radio and the weather band.

    2. Next you have mobile radios. These are usually a much higher transmit power output. usually 40-50 watts (for the uhf and vhf bands). These are powered off of the battery system in your vehicle. (TIP: Never run one of these off of the Cigarette lighter plug in your vehicle as they pull a lot more amperage and will overheat the plug which could cause a fire) These type of transceivers are used with an external antenna most commonly a magnetic type but some antennas are hard mounted to the vehicle. You can also connect a mobile radio to a power supply that plugs into household plug and will output the same voltage as in your vehicle. This is most commonly used as a lower cost way to setup a radio in your home. This type of setup used in your house is commonly called a base station. This can be used with a magnetic mount antenna but you should use a fixed mount antenna for better performance. You can even make your own antenna for less the $5.00. This is a very good and fun and easy project to make, especially if you have kids interested in helping.

    3. H.F. radio: This is a much higher transmit power output that is used for longer distance communications. I have talked all over the world using HF radio both at home and even mobile in my vehicle. This is a lot of fun and you never know where or to whom you will talk to. So it is kind of like rolling the dice in a crap game. One day you may talk to someone in California, or Mexico and then later the same day you make talk to someone in Germany or Australia. Most H.F. radios also use a external power supply like the mobile radios above. There are some that are very small and can be mounted in a vehicle and some are rather large. Some are strictly used on household power 110 volts as they have a built in power supply. Also a little side not of interest to you is most H.F. transceivers also included a general coverage receiver. This is layman’s terms mean it is also a shortwave receiver. It is a lot of fun to listening to radio from all over the world.

    4. Repeater: This is a radio receiver / transmitter that takes your low in height and power signal and repeats it back out at a higher power in wattage and from a much higher elevation to other listening stations.

    5. Bands / Frequencies: This is something you will hear a often when talking about or reading about ham radio. “BANDS” are just a set of frequencies where you are allowed to talk. This is similar to channels in CB radio. Each different channel in CB radio and all radios for that matter use a different frequency. It is like tuning a radio station in you car to listen to music. 101.9, 98.7 and so on. Only one station can be on that same channel / frequency at a time. Each license level has different frequencies that you can talk on. As you upgrade your license you will add more frequencies you will be allowed to use. There are a lot of different bands that cover different distances. UHF and VHF are more of a local area coverage and then you have HF. HF is used for longer distance communications.

    6. Antenna: This is probably the most important part of a transceiver. A bad antenna can make a very expensive radio perform poorly. A good antenna can make a cheap radio perform like a much more expensive radio. Antennas are tuned to the frequencies you will be transmitting on. To tune an antenna you are either lengthening or shortening the antenna. This can be done either by actually making the antenna longer or shorter or buy using something called a antenna tuner. (see below)

    7. Antenna tuner: A antenna tuner matches an antenna that is not a perfect impedance match to the frequency you are going to transmit on. Some are automatic and some you have to make the match to the transceiver manually. The better the match between the antenna and transceiver the better the performance.

    Here is a link to a band plan chart with a key that shows the different bands each level of license holder can transmit on. The key shows 5 different levels of license holders even though there are only 3 levels of licenses being given now. This is because as long as you keep your license current (renewed) you still hold that level of license privileges. The 3 being given currently are Technician, General and Extra class.

    Here is a link to the paperback study guide on the ARRL website.

    Also here is a Ham radio for Dummies book on Amazon that explains some of the lingo and technical terms.

    Now here are some links that I would suggest to anyone interested

    The American Radio Relay League is the people that work to help keep the frequencies for us as hams. It is a yearly paid membership but it is not necessary to be a member to become a ham radio operator. The do have a good magazine that is included with the membership though. There is a lot of great info on this website about ham radio and the hobby.

    On this site you will find everything you will need to know about getting your license and getting started in ham radio.

    Here is a website where you can download free software to use to study for the test. I have used this and many other pieces of his software. You will need to study the Technician level for the basic / beginner level.

    Here is a site where most hams order their equipment from. Their nearest store is located in Atlanta, Georgia. They are called HRO or Ham Radio Outlet.

    QRZ.com This site is mainly used to lookup a callsign. A callsign is your personal id issued to you and only you from the FCC. My callsign is KF4QOE. I am the only one to have this callsign.There are several sites that do this but QRZ is the best. There is also a lot of good ham radio info on there too. They have a good forum and even a section for items for sale.

    Eham is another website where you can find a lot of good info about ham radio. Great forum. Many people willing to answer your questions. Good area of items for sale.

    Equipment can be purchased used or new, but remember buying anything used you should either know what you are looking at when you buy it or have someone experienced with you that does. Most hams are honest but as with everything else in life buyer beware.

    Local radio clubs are one of the best resources for information and help with any questions or problems you may need help with. Below is a link to the local ham radio club called M.A.R.C. (Montgomery Amateur Radio Club) I am a past President and vice President of the club. You should at least visit several of their meetings. They meet once a month at the Red Cross located off of Carmichael Road. These are a great group of folks and are all willing to talk to you about the hobby and offer advice to help you along the way to getting your license and or buying equipment, or help with equipment. If your not in the Montgomery, Alabama area then visit the ARRL website and click the link for local clubs near the top of the page.

    Also there is something called Hamfest that are held all over the USA and we have one coming up soon here in Montgomery. Hamfest are just a swapmeet / flea market of used and some new Equipment for sale or trade. The MARC hamfest is going to be NOVEMBER 10, 2012 at the Alcazar Shrine Temple 555 Eastern Blvd here in Montgomery. I will be going so if anyone wants to join me and get some tips on equipment to buy or what to stay away from please let me know. Also Kelly will be there selling some of her Jewelry.

    There are many other sites out there with info about Ham radio but these are the best of the basic sites. If you have any questions please feel free to email me or call me.

    The most important thing to remember about this is this is a hobby. Use it to have fun and when the need arises and it will use it in the case of an emergency.

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